While running this morning–I know, I hate myself too–I was listening to The Exploding Hearts, and was caught off guard by the lyrics of one of my favorite tracks, “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades”.
“You know the first time you left me, babe it was so hard and it didn’t hurt that you told all my friends I’m a retard”
The whole song is a jaunty comic depiction of an off-again-on-again relationship and uses suicidal references for levity so it’s beyond obvious that “retarded” isn’t being used in a genuinely hateful way, but it’s tough to imagine the lyrics being penned in 2016.
However it occurred to me The Exploding Hearts aren’t the only band I love to flippantly include the R-word in an otherwise excellent song. Some are more defensible than others but really “retard” isn’t really integral to either “Sleeping Aides…” or these other songs.
“How Am I Not Myself” by The Shocking Pinks
In 2007, four years after The Exploding Hearts put out the classic Guitar Romantic, The Shocking Pinks–a buzzy, one-man-band signed to DFA–released an incredible, self-titeld record.
That record includes some wonderful, emotive songs including the heavy-lidded pop of “This Aching Deal” and the utterly perfect “Second Hand Girl”.
Sandwiched in between those songs is “How Am I Not Myself?” which is a premium slice of Sad Bastard Music.
The song is pretty much an outpouring of depressing sentiment and imagery, so it’s not totally surprising when a really depressing relation dynamic is described as follows:
I love you when you’re happy/I love you when you’re sad/But I’d rather be a retard babe than be your motherfuckin’ dad
It’s an ugly sentiment in a song that’s lyrically the seeping ooze pumping out of a deep wound so it doesn’t seem out of place, just wholly unnecessary.
“Famine Affair” by of Montreal
Improbably of Montreal have been a thing for two decades. They began as a twee-indie-pop band with bizarre concept albums as likely to contain radio serial skits and character studies as songs about love.
Around 2004, things started to pick up a funky, electronic edge and glam influences crept in. Generally, this has been for the better, and it produced the masterful Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
All those influences are present and accounted for on the excellent “Famine Affair” off of 2010’s often overlooked False Priest, but since it’s included in the post you can guess what else is included–the word retard.
In what’s quickly becoming a theme for this list, the song is about a toxic relationship ending in entirely foreseeable disaster with Kevin Barnes singing about flying toward tragedy in a glass bottom airplane. But the next lines have always seemed to need more context.
Looping like a retard/Are you still playing the race card?
They basically work as a couplet in context of the song, so there’s really no reason the whole thing couldn’t have been scrapped from what is otherwise my all-time favorite breakup song for triumphant disco and Woody Allen reference reasons.